Is Your Workplace affecting your Productivity?

Productive Productivity Workplace Productivity

Does your workspace make you feel stressed or distracted?  Do you suspect that you could be more productive than you actually are?

If the answer to these two questions is a resounding “Yes”, then let me ask just one more question:    Is your workspace cluttered?

This may seem irrelevant, after all, plenty of people work in chaos.  However, researchers have found that physical clutter can negatively affect your mood, resilience and ability to work productively and efficiently.  It can become difficult to focus on just one thing when there are many things lying around competing for your attention.  You may even start to feel that things are spiralling out of your control.  There is always something else needing your attention in any business but if most of the attention-seeking things are spread around your office in plain sight, you will possibly begin to feel overwhelmed.  You might be tempted to multi-task although doing so will negatively impact on your productivity.

I guess I paint a bleak picture but never fear, it is relatively straightforward to break the cycle.

Control

First of all, dedicate a small amount of time each day to getting your work area under control.  Put away things you don’t need to work on today, or this week.  Go through everything and ruthlessly chuck out things you don’t need, file things you need to keep but don’t need on your desk.  Organise the things you do need in a way that makes sense for you and your business.   Once you have got things under control, keep them that way by having a daily or weekly tidy up to ensure things don’t get out of hand again.

De-Clutter

Don’t forget your electronic clutter. Set up files that make sense for your business and use them.  Keep your inbox under control.  Unsubscribe if you don’t read that email newsletter.  Delete things that don’t need retention (newsletters, Amazon offer emails, items you’ve answered but don’t need to keep).  File the things you do need to keep.  I have more advice about Inboxes in this blog if this is the area you are struggling with the most.

Lists and Notes

Use a To-Do List and don’t overload it.  I’ve written on this subject here and here and I do tend to bang on about this.  However, a long To-Do list is almost as distracting as a cluttered workspace.  A To-Do List,  marked up with the priorities for each task on the list,  can keep you organised, your work on track and help you to feel in control of your workload. You will be more productive as a result.

If you are a person who tends to write things on bits of paper as you go about your day, try using one notebook for this purpose and always have it with you.  This ensures that you don’t add to the clutter in your workspace by having Post-it notes, and scrappy bits of paper all over the place, competing for your attention.

Capturing routine information throughout the day without reacting to it straight away can also help you to feel more in control of your work.  If you allocate time at the end of the day to go through the things you have captured and put them into your diary or To-Do list as appropriate, you will feel much more in control of your workload.

Once your workspace is more organised your productivity should begin to increase and you should start to feel more in control of your workload too.

If you would like more help to organise your workspace to help you become more productive, get in touch for a chat.

Dream to Achieve: The Importance of Sleep

Lack of Sleep Sleep deprivation Sleep, Dream, Dreaming

As a society we push ourselves to work long hours, viewing this as a necessary evil in the pursuit of success.  Technology ensures we are constantly connected to our work, even when we are not physically at work.  Popular off-duty activities include fast moving sports and video games.  Even if we take up something calming like yoga, we often rush from yoga class to the supermarket, then home to deal with domestic responsibilities, negating the calmness brought about by the yoga.  With leisure time shrinking and the length of time we work, both per week and over our lifetime, lengthening is it any wonder that many people suffer from lack of sleep?

Many of my clients come to me complaining that they are too busy and have to work exceptionally long hours.  They are tired, stressed and beginning to feel resentful toward the business that they once loved because its demands are getting harder and harder to manage.  Often I hear them tell me they are skimping on sleep in order to keep on top of everything they need to do.

It is World Sleep Day on 15 March so what better time to investigate the impact of lack of sleep on our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

Long work hours result in not only tiredness but also a lack of attentiveness which in certain circumstances can have really dangerous outcomes.  Driving whilst tired is just as dangerous as driving whilst drunk;  our reactions are impaired and it is not unheard of for fatal accidents to result from people actually falling asleep at the wheel.  Those super long days driving between meetings are really not good for your health.

Distracted and Inefficient

Lack of sleep will make you distracted.  Concentration will be more difficult and you will possibly flit about from task to task, unable to quite finish anything.  The plethora of half done tasks will then start to annoy and upset you.  As your judgement and ability to plan is also impaired by lack of sleep, this may lead to poor decision making. You may also fail to realise that the time has come to stop doing a task because you are not achieving anything useful.

When we sleep we are not just laid in bed recharging ourselves like a battery.  Sleep is the time when our brain sorts out all the stuff we have done and learned that day and puts it into the right order to make sense of things.  If you don’t get enough sleep, that won’t happen and you will find you are struggling to learn.  In today’s fast paced world where continued learning is a critical skill in the workplace, lack of sleep can therefore cause real problems.

Memory Failures

Both long and short term memory are affected by lack of sleep.  We might notice that we have to try harder to take on board new information and keep it available in long term memory.  The impact on short term memory is more immediately obvious; we can’t recall things that happened two minutes ago.  This is the point where you go up and down stairs fourteen times before you finally manage to remember that you went up there to get your glasses.

(Not) Getting Things Done

Efficiency and productivity are reduced, so an all-nighter will usually make you less efficient and productive rather than more so.  Brain imaging studies have shown that your brain must work harder when you are sleep deprived, making it less efficient and as a result you are also less efficient.  Taking the time to have the right amount of sleep will actually mean you get more done rather than less.

Because your brain is tired it will rely on the well-worn pathways created by habits. This is fine if the habit is useful, effective and appropriate.  It’s not so good if the habit is unhealthy.

Relationships

Lack of sleep affects our relationships as well.  We have less empathy when we are sleep deprived and can’t read facial expressions as effectively.  This can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts can arise, particularly if both parties are tired.  This can have an impact on relationships as well.  For example, new parents who are being woken throughout the night by their infant may find this places a strain on the relationship.

The Solution

The good news is that just one or two good nights sleep can reverse most of the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation.  The occasional late night/early morning can be coped with but for long term health as well as optimum efficiency and productivity, a regular sleep pattern is recommended.  The type of sleep is more important than the number of hours you are physically laid in bed as well.  There are four sleep stages and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is the most important.  Research suggests that we need about two hours of REM sleep per night in order to feel alert the next day.  Whether you are a morning or evening person makes a difference as well.  If possible, early birds should retire early and get up early whilst night owls might sleep from 2am – 10am and feel wonderful on waking.

If you have too much work and not enough sleep, why not outsource some of your admin so you can sleep in peace, knowing you don’t need to worry about your admin backlog.  Click Here to see the services I offer and  Click Here if you’d like to have a chat.

Business Processes: The Blueprint for Success

Business Processes

At the beginning of a new year our thoughts tend to turn toward making improvements in our business which will increase its size and revenue.  Often when a business grows rapidly, information about tasks and processes are held entirely in someone’s head.  If they leave the company this can leave a knowledge gap that can be difficult to fill.  New staff come in and are not sure what the business processes and procedures are and this can lead to problems with motivation, accuracy and speed of learning.  Even if your staffing is relatively stable, people get sick or go on holiday, leaving someone to temporarily carry out their tasks.

As a business grows, written business processes to govern how tasks are carried out, by whom and within what timescale will become increasingly necessary to ensure a consistent quality outcome.  Written processes also give a benchmark against which performance can be measured and a hand over plan when staff move on or change roles.

steps, steps to improve, steps to increase

The first step when documenting a process or task is to break the process down into steps.  Identify who is responsible for each step in the process, what the outcome looks like at each stage and what order tasks should be completed in order to arrive at a consistently high quality outcome using the minimum effort and resources necessary.  Look at the stages of the process and identify any areas where tasks are handed between people. Ensure that these areas are particularly clearly documented and state who is responsible for each area of the outcome.  Add any milestones or targets required for timely completion.

checklist, GDPR checklists

List everything that you think could go wrong.  If appropriate, ask another person if they can see any areas where a failure might occur.

Write it all down but then put it away for a day or two.  When you go back to read it again, try to follow the steps.  Would you add new steps?  Do you understand what you wrote?  Could you express the task more clearly?  Would a diagram, screen shot or better explanation help?  What would you clarify?

business procesesses project planning project management

Ask someone you trust to follow the process as  you have written it.  Can they follow it easily?  Do they understand it clearly or do you explain some elements more clearly?  How do they think it could be improved to make the outcome happen faster or more efficiently?  What input can they give which will help the overall process to move smoothly?

business processes project planning project management

Provide links to all supporting information.  This might be a “How To” guide for a task that forms part of the whole, a manual that governs company process, legislative rules, or a related instruction that is already in place.

Include the locations of any files or forms that must be used.  If your documentation changes infrequently, example forms are fine to include.  However, if you can store the form on-line and publish a link in your process document this will make your documentation more future proof.  If the form is updated, your manual will remain applicable.

Contact details for all the teams involved in the process are also critical.  Using a link to the company contact list is helpful here.  Again, it future proofs your documents, reducing the number of amendments required.

If you must use jargon or acronyms, please explain it in a footnote.  It is particularly important to avoid these in induction manuals since your new team member will think they’ve landed in outer space without knowing the language.

Before a process is released into the world it should ideally be tested to identify any missing steps or incorrect information.   If you can, ask a representative of all the teams involved to look at the process to make sure it will work at every step in the process.

All business processes are live documents and should be subject to regular review, particularly when there have been major changes in the organisational structure.

An outsider can often view business processes more clearly than those who are within the organisation.  They come in with a fresh eye and new questions that you might not have thought of.  It can be a challenge to “see the wood for the trees” when you are so close to the action.  A new perspective can also help clarify priorities for change where there seem to be a lot of issues to resolve at once.  If this is an area you are struggling with, then do get in touch.  I have experience in setting up and improving processes and would be glad to help.

Are YOU Outsourcing these five tasks?

Outsourcing Virtual Assistant VA Admin Support

Following on from my post about the intangible value that outsourcing to a VA can bring to your business I thought it would be helpful to discuss some of the specific value-added tasks a VA can complete for you.  If you missed the first blog, you can read it here.

A VA is the “Can you just…” person for your business.  We deal with the things that don’t need your expertise.  The routine admin tasks that take time.  The day to day support tasks.  The last minute research and so much more.

Most of us have a large amount of very varied experience in a range of areas and you’d be surprised what we can help you with. It is our transferable skills that make us effective.   The detail of the task can be different for each client but the benefits are the same; a better return on investment for your precious and limited time.

The work I do is very varied but there are five key tasks that I carry out for almost all my clients.  Unsurprisingly, these are tasks that are time consuming but do not directly contribute to income generation.

Diary and Meeting Management

Ensuring you are where you should be, in plenty of time. Managing the often time-consuming back and forth involved in setting up meetings between very busy people.  Ensuring best use of time by laying out diaries in a way that ensures enough time allocated for client work.  Booking meetings into the diary in a way that makes best use of your limited time.

In-Box Management

Managing your Emails and flagging up the important items.  Dealing with the routine rubbish. Highlighting interesting opportunities that might align with your brand.  Politely responding to approaches that you aren’t ready to consider yet but might want to look at in the future.  Corralling newsletters into a separate area to read later and keeping things tidy so emails can be found when needed.

Social Media

Social media and marketing is a necessity for a small business and outsourcing it is easy.   I provide support with the more time consuming elements of this.  Writing content.  Sourcing articles to share, creating graphics and making videos from blog posts so content can be reused effectively.  Scheduling posts based on an agreed content schedule.  Researching for blog posts.  Help and support with marketing tasks and ideas.

Data Input

This is a popular service.  I can type up most documents you might need but data input is much more than that.  I can input into popular CRM systems, Excel, and any bespoke software that you are using for any purpose.   If you need information added to a system, I can do that for you.  Quickly, accurately and effectively. Data input can be time consuming, particularly if you aren’t a touch typist so outsourcing this can save you a lot of time.

My most popular ad hoc service is input of business cards into CRM systems or Excel.  I often perform this one for new clients so they can get a feel for how accurate and responsive I am.  It’s a good one to choose if you’ve never worked with someone virtually before as it gives a good feel for how the process works and how responsive the service can be.

General Admin Tasks

Returning calls and emails, correspondence, stuffing envelopes, chasing up missing information, mailing out documents, tidying offices, filing and generally getting stuff under control when it’s gotten out of control.    Just to show you how bespoke outsourcing can get, one client has me handle all the vouchers that go through their business.  Another uses me only for proof checking.

Although my specialism is HR support, I work with a number of businesses who need a variety of general tasks carried out.   If you are ready to make more money and have more time to spend with your family, you can get in touch with me here for a chat.

Schedule Directly To Facebook Business Page

How to schedule posts to your facebook business page; Facebook Scheduling; Social Media Tips

Did you know that you can schedule posts directly on your Facebook Business Page?  Facebook have, I think, made this feature a little less obvious recently, but it is still there and it’s a useful thing to know about.  It can be used in place of scheduling software, or in addition to it.  I tend to use it in addition to my regular scheduling software.  It’s great for scheduling things to pages you manage though doesn’t seem to be available on the main timeline, just on pages.

To start, go into Facebook to write your post as normal.

Add a photo by clicking on the photo/video button on the left below the coloured background choices.

Facebook Facebook Scheduling Social Media Scheduling Social Media Tips

Posts tend to perform better with photos than without them and posts with videos perform even better, though that’s a subject for another day.

Facebook now gives you quite a wide choice of photo options.  For a normal post, just choose the top option “Upload photos/Video”.

Facebook, Facebook Scheduling, Social Media Tips, Facebook Tips

Photos will be resized automatically to the correct size for Facebook.  This works better when Facebook shrinks your larger image.  Very small images will pixelate and look bad when Facebook sizes them up.    I am deliberately not giving actual photo sizes here because Facebook changes things regularly.  A quick Google search will tell you what the right size is this month.  I tend to use 800 x 800 which is the generic Social Media template size on Canva.

Social Media, Facebook Scheduling, Social Media Tips

Here you can see I’ve added a photo to my post.  This is one of the photos I created in Canva so it is 800 x 800 pixels.  At this point you are ready to post or to schedule your post.  Except, Facebook doesn’t appear to have an option to schedule does it?  You have this huge “Share Now” button and no evidence of a scheduling option anywhere at all.

However, if you go to the News Feed button you can see “Post options”.  Click the blue wording and you will get the option to Share.  The word Now has a down arrow next to it.   I’ve highlighted it in the photo below.

It does make it look as though if you click the word “Now” it will set off and share your post, but it doesn’t.  Click the down arrow next to “Now” and you will get a drop down that will give you the options to schedule, backdate or save as a draft.  It defaults to Now but you just click the one you want to use.

When you click on Schedule you will get this scheduling box on the screen.  Just choose your date using the drop down calendar and alter the time to suit your post.

Social Media, Social Media Scheduling Social Media tips

Click the nice blue “Schedule” button and your post will go off into the wings to wait quietly for its moment in the spotlight.

You can schedule quite a few posts using this method. I’ve done 25 at one sitting without a problem but it does seem to work only on pages, not on the main timeline.

I hope you found this helpful but if you still feel uncomfortable with scheduling to Facebook, or just don’t have the time or patience to post regularly, then please get in touch with me here and I’d be happy to help.

Successful Project Planning: Five Key Features

Project planning successful projects project support project support

Project Planning involves managing a number of interconnected elements, ensuring all the strands fit together into a seamless whole and result in the outcome you were intending.  Although it might seem complicated to manage the many elements of a project, if you keep these five things in mind you will be well on the way to a successful project that comes in on, or below, budget.  And as a Yorkshire Gal, bringing things in under budget is always my preferred option.

Flexibility

Have a plan, but don’t treat the plan as though it is a fixed thing.  Most plans tend not to survive contact with the enemy and the key to bringing in a project to time and budget is flexibility.  Treat your plan like a framework.  Move things about within it so that time and resources, including human resources, are used to best advantage.

Dealing with Roadblocks

If you come to a road block in your project planning it is worth taking some time to step away, think things through, and consider re-jigging the plan before you press on.  Sometimes you will decide that pressing on is the right thing to do, particularly if there is no way to get around the road block. However, before you decide to press on, are you sure there is no way around that road block?  An old boss of mine used to tell me, “If you come to a wall, walk along a bit.  You might find you can go around it, rather than forcing your way through it.”  Sometimes, brainstorming some ideas with your team, or just leaving the problem for a few hours, can result in an innovative solution coming to you which will allow you to go around rather than pushing on through and is often a better solution than the original one.

Wiggle Room

When planning a project of any kind, remember to take account of contingencies and build in some wiggle room for delays and problems.  Wiggle room allows you to deliver problem projects bang on target, and routine projects early.  And what client doesn’t love, and provide glowing testimonials about, companies who deliver well within the timescale?

Blast Off

Remember:  “Never launch into a project with aggressive randomness.  Always take time to examine the project parameters first.”  This is a direct quote from a tutor I studied with a good few years ago.  It made me laugh then and it makes me laugh now.

How many times have you had an idea and then set off to implement it, without examining what will be needed?  For example:  you get up one morning, look at the bathroom ceiling and decide it needs painting.  You rush off to the DIY shop and buy paint.  When you get home and go into the garage to get the painting tools you find five litres of white emulsion you forgot you had bought, a broken roller tray, brushes with clumped together bristles and a rather sad, bald looking roller.  So, you trot off to the DIY shop again.  You buy a roller sleeve but decide to save money by not buying the cage and handle because you already have that.  You get some brushes and the roller tray and return the white paint from that morning.  When you get home the roller doesn’t fit the handle and you have to go back to get a new handle after all.  One initial trip to the garage to check on stocks and equipment, and perhaps a decision to take the roller handle with you to the shop, would have saved petrol, time, frustration and money.

Cost Control

Cost control is always a critical part of project planning and it can spiral out of control if it’s not managed.  DIY projects tend to be particularly prone to costing way more than you expect and taking twice as long as you expected.  This is because things always go wrong when we do things which we are not experienced in, or qualified to carry out.

Sometimes, it is cheaper and easier to outsource tasks.  Often it takes less time for an experienced person to complete tasks.  They will have the ability to apply tips and tricks learned over a number of years.  I’m not that good at DIY projects.  I am, however, brilliant at administration projects with a lot of experience of project planning and a number of tips and tricks in my arsenal that can save my clients time.  Here you can read about just one of the projects I’ve successfully completed for clients.

If you have an admin project you are looking to complete and you want it to come in to time, and budget, why not get in touch with me.  I can take on projects of all sizes from getting individual inboxes under control to the creation of processes and procedures ready for a small business to be scaled.

Delegation:  The Rocket Fuel for your Business

Delegation

The Oxford Dictionary defines delegation as “entrusting of authority to a deputy”

In practice, this means breaking down responsibilities into discrete tasks and allocating those tasks to the most qualified person.  By delegating you ensure the task is done quickly, effectively and correctly.  Most importantly for the small business owner, delegating the tasks you aren’t good at, don’t like or take a long time to do will free your time to complete more of the revenue generating tasks that will move your business forward.

Delegation can be a worry and some people experience barriers to delegation which can feel difficult or even insurmountable.  However, the benefits for your business can be huge if you push through the discomfort and learn to delegate effectively.

Here we are discussing delegation of tasks to outsourced service providers rather than the problems of delegation within a large organisation.  They share some challenges but delegation to outsourced providers arguably has fewer problems because there are fewer, if any, organisational barriers in place.  The small business owner can choose from a range of outsourced providers and pick the one most suitable.  They are not constrained by the pool of talent offered by their department as they would be within a corporate setting.

The 7 most commonly experienced barriers are discussed below.

I like doing the task

Although you love doing it, do you do it quickly, effectively and well?  Can you complete the task in the same timeframe as an expert in that field?  If it is an enjoyable task but one which takes up a lot of your time, can you break down the task, remove and outsource the part that takes a long time, and keep the part of the process you really do enjoy?  This would save you some time, still allow you to gain enjoyment from the task.

I can do it better myself

If you really can, then don’t delegate that.  But if you can’t then it may be you fear the results of handing over the task to someone else in case they don’t do it quite how you would like it.

Getting over this is down to trust, training and communication.  Choose your service provider very carefully.  Be sure that you feel comfortable communicating openly with them about what you need.

Be very clear about what you want the outcome to be.  Communicate clearly about details, deadlines, layout, format etc.  If there is an area you have concerns about, ensure you are particularly clear about your expectations in that area and the reasons why this is important.  Be open to answering questions from your outsourced service provider so they can understand your needs and meet them first time.  A good service provider will welcome feedback as it allows them to complete the task quickly, accurately and effectively.

I can’t explain what I want

Oddly enough, this isn’t always the insurmountable issue that it might seem to be.  Because you are delegating to someone who has expertise in the area, they will also have experience of the problems and pitfalls of what you are trying to do.  This reduces the amount of explanation that is needed.  Take the problem to them.  See what solutions they suggest.   You may be surprised.

I’ve worked with people who have rung me up and said “Help.  I am drowning.  I don’t know what I need, but I know I need help.”  With a few carefully placed questions I’m able to identify a place to start that will make a difference quickly, make some suggestions for medium and long-term solutions we can work toward when time allows, and quickly get them from drowning in the deep end to swimming strongly toward the shallow end where they can sit quietly and catch their breath.

No one can do it the way I like it.

It is very rare that this is true.  It is almost certainly going to be possible to train someone to do things exactly the way you need them to be done.  Take McDonald’s as an example.  They train thousands of people to turn out the exact same burger, in the exact same timescale, cook it for the exact time, for all I know they add the exact same size piece of gherkin (which most people throw into the exact same bin).

Yes, if you like things done a certain way then you may need to spend a little more time training your outsourced service provider initially.  However, just think how brilliant it will be when you can delegate that task and your provider can turn out the equivalent of those burgers within your business day after day, week after week, same level of detail and just how you like it.  At less money per hour than you charge out at.  Meaning you save money every single time they do that task.  How cool would that be?

I have no time to spend on telling someone else how to do this.

See above.  The time invested in training will pay off later.  Also, of course, if you are delegating to an expert, they won’t need to be told how to do the task properly… and they might have some fresh ideas that will save you even more time, and money, as well as making your life simpler.

I don’t know who I can trust.

Ask for recommendations and check reviews and testimonials for the people you’ve had recommended to you.  Most, if not all, outsourced service providers will have testimonials on their website and LinkedIn profile.  Some will have reviews via Google My Business or Facebook. I am very proud of the testimonials I’ve gathered and they are all viewable here.

The testimonials, together with the rest of the website, will give you a great idea about the person, the business, their skill set, the things that drive them to excel and the tasks they have completed for others successfully.

Once you have a shortlist of people whom you think you could work effectively with, get in contact with them and arrange to meet for coffee and a chat.  Meet with several people so you can find the one that you will work most effectively with.  I am always really pleased when a potential client tells me they are looking at several possible VA’s so they can find just the right one.

I can’t afford it

Say you charge out at £75 an hour.  And you decide that you won’t outsource your admin because VA’s are charging out at £25 an hour on average and it’s just admin which you can do yourself.  So you spend on average 7 hours a week on your admin.  A whole day.  That’s £575 a week that you can’t bill for because you are busy doing admin.  You are only working on your paid tasks four days a week.  Or maybe you do your admin on a Sunday so it doesn’t interfere with your billing of work during the week and get grief off your family for doing admin at the weekend.

Even if your VA can’t do the work any faster than you could, delegating those 7 hours to her would cost you £175 for 7 hours work.  Admittedly you’d have one day a week where you billed only £400 a day and not the full £575.  But you would be free to bill for five days work every week and not four days.  Running at full capacity you could potentially make an extra £400 a week after you’ve paid your VA.  Assuming that you take a two week holiday every year, this means that over a full year you would be able to bill a whopping £20,000 extra a year. What could you do with that?  Pay for the two-week holiday?  Change your car every other year?  Private school fees for your children?

The question then becomes, can you afford not to delegate. 

To talk to me about the admin and organisational challenges you are facing in your business and discuss the ways I can support your business growth plans, please click here.

7 Steps to Better Email

Email Email Tips Help with Email

For many of us, the Email is our “Go To” method of business communication.  It is easy, quick and you don’t have to worry about disturbing the recipient with an ill-timed phone call.  The recipient can read it when they are ready.

But, are you using Email to best effect? Here are a few quick tips to help you craft a better Email, and make the most of this useful tool.

A clear layout

A clear layout with paragraphs and bullet points as needed will make your Email easier to read.  Easier to read means it is more likely to get read thoroughly.  Reading it thoroughly means the required actions are more likely to be carried out.

question. why, what, where, when, how

Who needs a copy?

Don’t copy in everyone you can think of, just in case they are interested. They probably aren’t.  People get lots of Emails and if you get a reputation for sending an Email every time your cat sneezes, your Emails will be the ones that people don’t open.  A quick rule of thumb is only to send to people on a “Need to Know” basis.

 Why are you Emailing me?

When people open an Email they need to know, very quickly, why you sent it to them, what action they need to take, and how soon that action should be completed.  A good Email will make all of this as clear as possible as early as possible.  It is best practice to put action addressees in the main Email address box and information addressees in the Carbon Copy (CC) box if at all possible.

Reply all.

For the love of all that is furry and cute, please don’t do this unless you absolutely have to. It might seem like a quick way to tell everyone you agree with them, but it becomes a tangled mass of replies.  At some point, someone will think they are replying to a single person in confidence, say something inappropriate or ill-advised, and find they’ve just told everyone about that.  Reply All is notorious for the many ways in which it can backfire on you.  It has brought down entire Email systems, caused friendships to end and been cited in Tribunal hearings as evidence.  Always check that you are replying only to the person you think you are replying to.

If you are Blind Carbon Copied, and you reply all, you will expose your presence as an addressee.  Depending on the circumstances, this could be embarrassing or escalate a situation.

In some Email systems, you can disable Reply All.  For the sake of harmony in the workplace, this can be a good plan if it is feasible.

books, library, learning, training, readingBigger than Ben Hur.

If there is a long Email chain, look to see if your question has already been answered.  Asking it again doesn’t look very professional and adds to the volume of messages without adding value.

War and Peace 

Emails should be concise and to the point.  Use an appropriate level of detail and consider whether all the information is essential.  Weeding out unnecessary information results in a better Email.

 Same But Different

Do you get lots of very similar Email enquiries into your business?   Perhaps you get lots of people asking if you are open on Saturdays, requesting a price list, or needing to confirm bookings.  Rather than spending lots of time answering these similar Emails individually, why not create some template Emails.  In most cases, you will be able to send the Email just as it is written, and if it doesn’t quite fit, you can tweak it to make it more appropriate.  It can be a great way to save a bit of time without compromising on customer service.  Get in touch with me here if you would like to find out more about how I can help you with template emails and Inbox management services.

Plan to Succeed: Using Lists to Save Time

Brain Dump Lists; Save Time; Succeed

Our lives are so busy now.  Just keeping up with technological change, new ideas, apps and methods can be a full-time job.  We have so many things to juggle on a daily basis and so many calls on our time.  It can be difficult to track it all. Many of us turn to lists to help us to manage everything, but a Brain Dump type list alone is not enough.  You need a system in order to succeed.

A system is exactly what David Allen’s brilliant book, Getting Things Done; The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (ISBN 978-0-349-40894-1) provides.  It’s a great resource for learning how to list, organise and get a grip on all the various tasks that you have to manage in your life.  This is part two of the series and focuses on the day to day use of the system to achieve better productivity. If you have missed the first part of the series, you can read that here.

For this part of the method, you will need a planner, diary, Filofax or similar.  Paper-based or electronic, it doesn’t matter.  It’s your system and should be designed to fit your needs.

One of the first things to do is to examine your brain dump list and put any time critical tasks into the diary or planner.  Appointments, deadlines, meetings, project goals, insurance due dates, social events and so forth.

Another category that you need to note in the diary is dates by which others must deliver their part of a shared project upon which your own tasks are dependent.  If you can’t start until they have finished, then you need to know when to check the delivery date with them or ask about any changed priorities that might impact on your diary planning.

David Allen suggests that you should use the diary only for the time-critical framework and not place your To Do lists into the diary.  I take this to mean that a time-critical task from my To Do list can go into the diary but the entire list should not.

The diary forms a framework that will be central to keeping you on track and feeling organised. By checking your diary regularly to identify upcoming events and deadlines, you can ensure that you allow enough time to prepare for them.  Working backwards you can place tasks on a list for each day that will move you nearer to the target in your diary.

Next look at the remaining items on your long brain dump list.  Add the most critical tasks to a To Do List for the week.  These will be things you need to do to meet the commitments you put in your diary as well as things which you have decided to complete that week.   The latter will be driven by the larger business goals you’ve set yourself.  If one of your goals is to re-write the copy on your website by 20th March you can break the goal into separate tasks, for example, tackling a page a week, and allocate the tasks to different weeks in your planner between now and the deadline.

By breaking large tasks down into smaller ones with measurable outcomes they feel more manageable. You can feel a sense of satisfaction that you have completed a step on the journey to completing the whole task.  If a task is too large and you don’t break it down then it will feel too difficult and you will put off doing it.

Having a long list of tasks with no real feeling of urgency (beyond that awful feeling of having too much to do and not knowing where to start) can lead to things being missed.   Creating a set of daily To Do Lists works much better as you have a much shorter list to get through, and this feels more manageable, and you are therefore much more likely to actually succeed in completing the items.

Choosing too many tasks for your weekly list leads to feelings of overwhelm which will negatively impact your productivity.  Having only one piece of paper for the list is one way to keep the list manageable.   Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day or week.  Three to four main tasks per day is a good number to choose.  You can always go back to your list for more if you finish quicker than expected.

Small related tasks can be chunked together.  Dealing with related tasks in one go can save time as your brain doesn’t need to switch tracks too sharply.  The brain isn’t great at switching rapidly between disparate tasks and takes a while to get back into the concentration zone.   If you plan your week so that similar tasks are done back to back, you will often get more done.  You could write more than one blog post in a particular session for example.

If, whilst doing a task, you think of something else you need to do, just make a note, and then return to your original task.   This will be less disruptive to your concentration than thinking you will remember the new task and write it down later.   At the end of the day or week, you can then add the various notes to your main brain dump list.

By concentrating on only a short list of things and having all the time critical elements noted in a diary, you have a plan for the week which allows you to calmly progress through your week, regularly referring to your list and planner to ensure that you are always engaged in the task that you should be doing and moving to the next task in a timely manner.

If you find that you still have too many tasks that fall into the critical category and you are not able to fit them all into your day, one option is to delegate some of the tasks.  I will be examining delegation in more detail in a future post and it is often the answer for those time consuming but essential tasks such as data input, research, sourcing images for social media, proof checking and filing.  If your lists include time-consuming admin tasks that you just don’t have the time to do, then just get in touch.  I’d be happy to help you to get it all under control.

Productivity Starts with You

Productivity; Productive; Tips for productivity

Yes. You.  There are all sorts of productivity tools and methods out there but they share a key feature at their heart.  You.  When it comes down to it, the only way you can become more productive is by changing the way you think about and act toward, the things you want to achieve.  So, at the start of a new year, here are ten tips that should help to start you on your way to greater productivity.  

Review your activity regularly.

Can you streamline the task you are doing?  Can you do the task differently, or put the steps in a different order so that you can be more efficient with your time?   Can you automate any steps?   Can any of the routine tasks, or parts of tasks, be outsourced to save you time?

By regularly evaluating what you are doing, and how you are doing it, and making small changes, you can improve productivity a little bit at a time.

Baby steps are better than no steps at all

A little bit at a time is a great way to tackle anything.  Baby steps can build into quite a journey if you just keep going.  This is particularly valuable if the task is large or one that you are not looking forward to.  Breaking a larger task down into smaller chunks and taking steps to complete each small chunk, one by one, gives a sense of achievement.  Also, if you have lots of small things on your list and you get through several of them, you do feel productive.  Feeling productive will encourage you to be productive.

Just get started on something.  If you are really stuck, just start on the thing that you know you can do well that day.  Even if that thing is tidying up the office.    Oddly, I have been known to have my best ideas when I’ve stopped trying to force them and just had a tidy up.  Some new idea will be triggered, you will get your motivation back, and you will be off again.

“If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.” – Henry Ford

Motivation and having a positive mindset are key parts of productivity.  Believing that what you are about to tackle is not only possible but that you will smash it, is critical.  It is hugely helpful to surround yourself with positive people who motivate, challenge and support you.  When you are struggling (and no one can be super positive all the time) having people there who are supportive and positive can be hugely beneficial in getting you back on track and allowing you to believe that you can do the task you have set out to achieve.

If you find yourself feeling negative toward your task then it’s time to put that task away and work on something that you do feel positive about.  Go back to the difficult task on another day when you are feeling more positive about the work and you will probably find that it moves forward more quickly.

Say No more often.

That might seem odd, but it works.  There are only so many hours in the day and you can’t do everything.  If the task must be done but you don’t have time, then delegate it.  If the task is not important enough to actually delegate, consider whether you should just say No.   If you concentrate only on the tasks that will move you toward your goal, and say no to the things that will not contribute to the goal or will move you further from it, you can become more productive.

Consider tasks in the light of your goals each time and take on those that you really feel have value.  Reject or delegate tasks that will affect your work life balance because getting that right is also a key part of productivity.

Get some sleep, have some downtime

You can’t be productive if you are exhausted, stressed by all the calls on your time, starting to hate your job or business because you are spending too much time in it, and have lost sight of why you are doing what you do.  Motivation will hit rock bottom if you are tired and if you do nothing all day and all night other than work.

You will be more productive if you switch off for a while each day.  Whether you exercise, veg out in front of the television, pursue a hobby, read or meditate, whatever works for you.  But do something different.  You will get a perspective on your tasks and be more productive as a result.

Deadlines

If you don’t have an externally provided deadline, then create one.  Whether you are the sort of person who leaves the work to just before the deadline, or one who takes pride in submitting work well in advance of the deadline, it doesn’t matter.  The important thing is to set deadlines so that you have to complete work by a particular time or date.  If you don’t, the work just expands to fill the available time and you end up doing busy work that doesn’t contribute to the outcome.

Organise your day into chunks, fit tasks into time slots, and stick to those.  It really does help to make you more productive.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Don’t multi-task.  Please.  Just don’t.  Most people don’t benefit from it and there is scientific evidence to suggest that it actually reduces productivity.  It is much more productive to really focus on one thing at a time.

One way to do this is the Pomodoro Technique, which has you completely focus on a task for a set time, usually 25 minutes, and then take a five minute break.  Do four of these task focus sessions, with the 5 minute break between, and then have a longer break of 15 to 20 minutes.  Rinse and repeat.

Keep your To Do List short

There are few things more stressful than a massive To Do list.  You will spend much of the day panicking about how much you still have left to do on the list.  This panic will affect your productivity because in the back of your mind you are always thinking of the next task and this affects your focus.

It is better to be realistic, have only three or four main tasks on your list and get those done.  You can also add a few small tasks that need very little focus and can slot those in between the larger tasks.  This can be helpful in giving your mind a bit of a rest before you tackle the next larger task.   Things like answering Emails, making routine calls and setting up appointments would all count as smaller tasks.

By keeping your list realistic you can focus fully on each task on your list and you will complete them successfully because of this.

Notice what wastes your time

And take steps to corral those things into a set timescale so that they cannot take over your day.  For me, it is Social Media.  I have three set times each day when I look at it.  I’ve banned myself from looking at it at any other time because otherwise I’d be reading interesting articles and adding new and exciting ideas to my “Investigate This Further” list for rather longer than planned.

Disorganisation and mess are the enemies of productivity

I’m not advocating a sterile, clear desk that contains only a beautiful mug, a flower and one, beautifully clean, laptop.  I am not sure I’ve ever owned a desk that had a flower on it, and most of my mugs are well loved and not a candidate for one of those fancy flat lay photos that seem to suggest we all work on clear desks, in really large, light rooms, and make fancy patterns on our coffee every time we go to the kitchen for a brew.

If you saw my desk you would know it was a place of work.  However, I know where everything is.   The things I need to lay my hands on quickly are right where I need them.  My filing system yields up its information quickly and effectively.  I seldom need to spend much time looking for things.

You can be so much more productive in an organised environment.  If you are surrounded by an environment which you feel is not organised then you will feel less organised.  You will be distracted by the need to put something away, move something out of the way, or search for something that you were sure you had last week.

It can be useful to set aside time to tidy the desk or workspace on a Friday before you leave work.  When you get to your desk on Monday you have a tidy and organised environment which will set the tone for a productive and effective week.

Next Steps

Task delegation was mentioned earlier in the article and it really can make a difference to productivity as it is the best way to free up more time for you, more time for you to concentrate on your business and more time to achieve your goals.  If you are struggling with your productivity and your admin is taking over your life, then let’s have a chat.

I can take your admin tasks and make them run smoothly, so you don’t feel you want to run away from them.  Leaving you free to be really productive in the areas that will most benefit your business.  Still not sure?  Why not see the difference my support has made to other businesses here.